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Trump’s Lack of Credibility on Libya

Jesse Walker comments on Trump’s latest position on the Libyan war:

I’m sure the Libya hawks in the Hillary camp would also prefer a timeline where their war went off without any bad bits. But if Trump has any ideas about how the Pentagon could have “take[n] out Qaddafi and his group” without creating a situation where Libya is “not even a country anymore,” he didn’t share them. Instead he’s basically saying I’m for a Libya war that worked out better, without Benghazi and all that. Which is a bit like saying The Iraq war was a great idea, except for the insurgency or Going into Vietnam was wise, as long as we could’ve had a quick victory.

The position Trump is now taking on Libya is not that different from the one that liberal hawks took when the Iraq war started to go badly. They wanted “credit” for supporting regime change and war, but also wanted to be able to second-guess how Bush managed the war. So once things started going wrong, they said they favored invading but disagreed with the way Bush had gone about it. Ritual paeans to the importance of multilateralism usually followed. That put them in the rather absurd spot of attacking Bush for mishandling the illegal, unnecessary war that he started, as if it would have been all right if it had just been managed more competently.

This sort of criticism, like Trump’s complaint about Libya, takes for granted that there was nothing inherently destabilizing and dangerous in overthrowing a foreign government that better management couldn’t have fixed. That misses the crucial point that forcible regime change and its consequences can’t be “managed” successfully because so many of its effects are out of the control of the intervening government(s) and some can’t be anticipated in advance. If Trump was fine with removing Gaddafi from power by force, and he admits that he was, he can’t credibly complain about the chaos that followed when the U.S. did exactly that. Trump has the same problem on Libya that Romney and all other hawkish candidates have had, which is that he cannot challenge Clinton on the decision to intervene because he ultimately agreed with that decision and supported joining the conflict at the time.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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